Chapters 15-16 Summary
The near-death experience brings all kinds of speculations about why Will didn’t die. Is he special that God delivered him? Or wasn’t it his time to die? The Methodist preacher thinks it means he was saved so he could be a preacher of God’s word.
The townsfolk go through their repertoire of disaster stories, including the “hit-by-the-train stories” (p. 91). A cow and mule had been killed by the train the same day Will had his accident. The Atlanta Constitution Tri-Weekly wants to interview Will about his experience. None of this means as much to Will as his Grandpa’s visit. Someone had rushed to the hotel to tell him about his grandson. Grandpa shows up at Will’s house with his new bride. This is an awkward moment, but Grandpa knows how to handle it. He is bold and is the only one who does not act embarrassed.
He announces his marriage and introduces his bride to the assembled neighbors. He acts like this is a normal thing, and leaves his new bride among them while he talks to Will privately.
Grandpa is proud of Will, and that makes him feel “stuck back together” (p. 97). Will confesses everything to his Grandpa and asks his opinion on why the accident happened to him. Was he predestined to live, as the Presbyterians tell him? Will wonders why he is alive and his friend Bluford died. Grandpa’s opinions on God and death are unorthodox but make sense to Will. One of the questions that Will asks Grandpa is repeated again at the end of the novel: why did Jesus say, ask and it will be given to you when we don’t get everything we ask for? Grandpa says he is going to study that question, but he knows there is more to God’s will than disappointment.
Grandpa returns to the parlor and asks the group to pray with him. He prays aloud, first to bless the memory of his first wife, and then to bless Miss Love whom he married today. He blesses his daughters and Will Tweedy whom God spared. The ice melts, at least for a moment; everyone congratulates the newlyweds, except for Loma.
Chapters 15-16 Commentary
Will comments after the scene of introducing Miss Love in the parlor that “Grandpa was equal to anything” (p. 101). He is an old rascal who loves to violate decorum. He jokes to Miss Love in front of everyone, “I done made you a granmaw!” (p. 95) The children are sent for to pay their respects. Will sees that “Miss Love must have felt like a cat cornered by a pack of dogs” (p. 96). Despite his bullying ways, however, Grandpa is shown as a wise peacemaker in these chapters. He comforts Will, and his public prayer shames everyone into behaving more charitably. He mentions both wives in the prayer and confesses that if he can be a good husband to Miss Love it’s because Mattie Lou taught him how. This brings tears and reconciliation.
The meaning of death is a common topic throughout the novel. Grandpa tends to believe that humans have a lot of free will and are responsible for their own fate. God wants them to live as long as they can. Will was saved, he says, because he used his brains.